digital divide

Content tagged with "digital divide"

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Public Ownership of Networks Can Solve Broadband Policy Fights

We are running a guest commentary today. Eric Null is a third-year law student at Cardozo Law School in New York City. He is passionate about corporate and intellectual property law, as well as technology and telecommunications policy. Follow him @ericnull or check out his papers. While researching a paper about municipal broadband networks, I was struck by the tremendous benefits that municipal networks can provide. It can be the first high-speed Internet link for an area without broadband, or it can provide some much-needed competition in areas that currently have access to broadband, but for some reason that existing access is unsatisfactory (e.g. price, service). Municipalities, in theory, can run the network for the benefit of the public rather than with a vicious profit maximization motive. Indeed, municipal networks bring many benefits. But first, a little history. In the United States, cable providers have set up regional monopolies for themselves, and “competitors” such as DSL and satellite are characterized by slower connection speeds and it is arguable that they are actual substitutes to cable access. Certainly within the cable industry, any “competitive” cable company attempting to compete with incumbents is met with high costs of building new infrastructure and lack of customer base. Municipalities can pick up where smaller, private entities cannot succeed. Municipalities have had a long history of investing in critical infrastructure, and they have the mentality for long-term planning that private companies simply cannot enjoy. A large company like Verizon likely has to justify any expansion of its network to its investors and ensure them that the venture will return a profit relatively quickly. Not so with municipalities; a city network allows its citizens to benefit indirectly (and directly) over the long-term. Thus, city governments can be a formidable competitor in the telecom and cable industries. Some states, regrettably, have banned or restricted the practice. In Nixon v.

Community Broadband: Bridging the Digital Divide

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In 2005, when Lafayette, Louisiana was considering a community broadband network, it created an excellent report discussing how a publicly owned network can work to improve digital inclusion. Six years later, the report remains well worth reading. Public ownership provides more tools for making sure advances in communications technology benefits everyone. Report Overview
This Digital Divide committee is motivated by the vision of our community creating a future in which everyone is both able to and motivated to seize the full power of a fiber optic network. Such a network has the potential to transform the lives of citizens in ways similar to the deployment of electricity, radio, and television. In building its own fiber-optic based utility, Lafayette creates the opportunity for further unifying the people of this community and, potentially, to help bridge current divides among her citizens. A publicly owned network can lower barriers to full and equal participation by making a new and powerful communication technology available to every citizen at the lowest practical cost. In our times, the keys to participation and productivity lie in these rapidly developing technologies. We recognize that if Lafayette is to experience healthy growth and benefit fully from such new technologies, all her people will need to become equal partners in our endeavor. Lowering the barriers to such a partnership and engaging in vigorous and innovative educational efforts will help us realize our community’s full potential. Barriers preventing entry into the world of computers and the World Wide Web include low income, fear or suspicion of technology, a lack of understanding of how useful technology can be, and absence of instruction concerning computers and the Internet. In addition, transportation to places where computers and Internet access are available to the public and knowledge that such places even exist are barriers for some.

Broadband Blindness Documentary

A new documentary from California explores the failure of the private sector and competition more generally to sufficiently invest in fast, affordable, and reliable access to the Internet.  It comes in three parts and runs about 25 minutes in total.  

This provides a good summary of the present broadband landscape and how AT&T, Comcast, and other major providers are not the answer to our increasing need for better connections to the Internet.

 

Susan Crawford Identifies Problems/Solutions with Broadband in America

Susan Crawford published an excellent essay in the New York Times presenting her Looming Broadband Monopoly argument as a discussion of the coming digital divide between those with access to next-generation networks and those without.
These numbers are likely to grow even starker as the 30 percent of Americans without any kind of Internet access come online. When they do, particularly if the next several years deliver subpar growth in personal income, they will probably go for the only option that is at all within their reach: wireless smartphones. A wired high-speed Internet plan might cost $100 a month; a smartphone plan might cost half that, often with a free or heavily discounted phone thrown in. The problem is that smartphone access is not a substitute for wired. The vast majority of jobs require online applications, but it is hard to type up a résumé on a hand-held device; it is hard to get a college degree from a remote location using wireless. Few people would start a business using only a wireless connection.
She identifies the problem as a lack of competition in the market while highlighting the role of lobbying from the wealthy cable companies to keep it that way:
The bigger problem is the lack of competition in cable markets. Though there are several large cable companies nationwide, each dominates its own fragmented kingdom of local markets: Comcast is the only game in Philadelphia, while Time Warner dominates Cleveland. That is partly because it is so expensive to lay down the physical cables, and companies, having paid for those networks, guard them jealously, clustering their operations and spending tens of millions of dollars to lobby against laws that might oblige them to share their infrastructure.
In this essay, her preferred solution is better federal regulation that would require companies that own networks to share parts of their infrastructure with competitors (to significantly reduce the problems of natural monopoly). Unfortunately, she did not explicitly discuss the solution of the communities building their own networks - a topic she has discussed at great length elsewhere in very positive terms.

Riverside: Municipal Wi-Fi is Alive in California

Riverside, California, an innovative city of 300,000 in the eastern part of Los Angeles has been a broadband pioneer even though it sits in the shadow of tech centers like nearby Santa Barbara.   Riverside’s accomplishment as a city catching up with the information age was evident when it was selected as one of the top 7 Intelligent Communities Award in 2011 by New York-based Intelligent Community Forum.  

“It’s an honor to be selected as one of the top 7 cities in the world.  It comes down to a couple factors, what communities are doing with broadband, but... includes digital inclusion, innovation, knowledge workforce (of folks within your community) and marketing advocacy... We rank very high in all those categories.” - City CIO Steve Reneker [Gigabit Nation Radio]

The cornerstone the city’s SmartRiverside initiative is a free public wireless network which covers 78% of the city’s 86 square miles.  Established in 2007 by AT&T (which also offers DSL services in Riverside), the maximum speed of the network is 768kbps, which at just under 1Mbps is decent enough to surf the web and check emails.  However the road to providing free Internet access and bridging the digital divide wasn’t so easy for Riverside.  

The City issued a RFP in 2006 for a provider to deploy a citywide Wi-Fi network, with the goal of making the Internet accessible to users who can’t afford higher cost plans.  The City met with respondents and a speed of 512kbps or about half a megabit was initially quoted as an entry-level speed that would complement existing services rather than compete against them.  The contract was awarded to AT&T who hired MetroFi to build the network and charge the city a service cost of about $500,000 a year.  MetroFi went bankrupt after completing only 25 square miles and Nokia Siemens took over but only completed up to the present level of coverage. 

In 2007, the wifi network launched and began bridging the digital divide. Through the City’s digital inclusion efforts, not only were modest-income families able to obtain low cost or free PCs but also have means to use them with an Internet connection.  

Comcast: Internet Access is Temporarily a Civil Right

You can now read this post at Huffington Post also. As a condition of its massive merger with NBC, the federal government is requiring Comcast to make affordable Internet connections available to 2.5 million low-income households for the next two years. In promoting the program, Comcast's Executive VP David Cohen, has made some unexpected admissions:
“Access to the internet is akin to a civil rights issue for the 21st century,” said David Cohen, Comcast’s executive vice president. “It’s that access that enables people in poorer areas to equalize access to a quality education, quality health care and vocational opportunities.”
It was only after the federal government mandated a low-cost option for disadvantaged households that Comcast realized everyone could benefit from access to the Internet. Sadly for Comcast, it has done a poor job of reaching those disadvantaged communities, by its own admission:
"Quite frankly, people in lower-income communities, mostly people of color, have such limited access to broadband than people in wealthier communities."
This is why so many communities are building their own next-generation networks - they know that these networks are essential for economic development and ensuring everyone has "access to a quality education, quality health care and vocational opportunities." And they know that neither Comcast nor the federal government are going to make the necessary investments. They need a solution for the next 20 years, not just the next 2. Community Networks Map Comcast has a de facto monopoly in many communities.

Building an Equity and Justice Movement for Communications

Following a four day retreat in September of 2010, Consumers Union and the Center for Media Justice released a report called Building an Equity and Justice Movement for the Internet, Mobile Phones, and Future Networks: A summary of goals, policies, strategies, and best practices by and for groups working for Internet policies that ensure opportunity, democracy, and equity for all. From the introduction:
This report is a brief summary of the Knowledge Exchange, written for participants and to share with the field. It reflects the open and frank discussions that took place during the convening, as well as the ease of communication among the group. The words in this report are quoted, paraphrased, and combined from presentation and discussion notes. The document includes ideas raised by individuals as well as collectively agreed-upon points. Overall, the 2010 Knowledge Exchange reflects just one moment in time in the midst of ongoing, overlapping conversations on these issues. This document is one of several publication projects emerging from the 2010 Knowledge Exchange that will be produced by CMJ. Strategy ideas, tools, case studies, and more will be available to our network members online through the MAG-Net website, www.mag-net.org. Facts, statistics, and other data are as of September 2010. For up-to-date media/telecom policy and campaign information, visit www.centerformediajustice.org and www.mag-net.org.

DC-Net Expands with Multiple Stimulus Grants

DC-Net, the muni-owned and operated fiber network connecting hundreds of community institutions (schools, libraries, local government buildings), is expanding in scope and mission following three broadband stimulus awards. But first, to introduce DC-Net, I am excerpting a few paragraphs from my comprehensive report on community networks - Breaking the Broadband Monopoly: How Communities Are Building the Networks They Need."
In 2007, DC-NET began with service to 135 sites, a number that has more than doubled to 280, including 140 school buildings alone. The network also provides connectivity for libraries, public hospitals, community centers, and some Wi-Fi networks. DC-NET staff designed, installed, and have maintained the overwhelming majority of the network. As is common with all these networks, some operations are contracted out (e.g. fiberoptic construction and some aspects of maintenance, such as fixing fiber cuts). DC-Net controls the locks and determines who has access to any part of its network, including key electronics on site in the buildings and elsewhere in the network, providing a high level of security. On the critical issue of reliability, DC-NET has proven impressive. The network has more layers of redundancy than one typically finds with a commercial carrier and the uptime shows it. In the first year of operation, it tallied an impressive record – with only four buildings briefly losing their network connection in three events – an average of 15 minutes of interruption per site for the year. This is far better than the industry standard – in DC-NET’s first year of operation. DC-Net is also more responsive to the needs of its subscribers. Though private companies like Verizon may require a month or even two to connect a new subscriber, DC-NET can do it in as quickly as a week to as long as twenty days. As for the services available, DC-NET will provide service from 2 Mbps -1000 Mbps, allowing subscribers far greater freedom to select the speeds they need than commercial providers offer. This publicly owned network saves DC some $5 million/year compared to the costs of duplicating functionality using leased circuits. Even then, it would not be nearly as reliable due to limits in redundancy from leased lines.